Identifying students’ expectations isn’t easy, but it is important to understand what students want from the learning opportunities that are designed and created for them. In particular, as teaching staff work to create engaging and effective Study Direct sites it would be very helpful to know what students want to see and would value. Early in 2012 the Study Direct team ran focus groups and one-to-one interviews with final year and first year Sussex students and asked them (amongst other things) what tips they would give to their tutors for designing Study direct sites. The results have been incorporated into a Study Direct site called Practical tips for tutors from students (if you don’t have a Sussex username you can login as a guest) which outlines the top four tips that students wanted to share with tutors.
The students’ suggestions cover structure and organisation of sites; content; personality and the way in which sites are integrated into teaching. Each tip is accompanied by guidance on how to develop your sites to respond to the suggestions, including screenshots and step-by-step instruction videos.
Titles are important to students as they help them to navigate around the site and get the most from the resources and activities there. Student comments included: ‘Lay things out in sections corresponding to teaching’, ‘Use meaningful titles to make it easy to move around the site’ and ‘Make it clear which sections contain which items’. It makes sense, just as we expect a text-book to be divided into chapters, each with a clear title, so each section in a Study Direct site needs a title that relates to a topic of study, with resources & activities for that topic all within that section or chapter, as you would expect in a book.
Content is what brings students to your site and when asked, they were clear about some of the essentials they wanted to find there and how they should be organised: a link to the module handbook in the introduction section; a brief description in each section of what will be covered by that part of the site ; readings, resources and activities in relevant sections and lecture notes at least 24 hours in advance. These all seem like perfectly reasonable requests – and ones that will help tutors to get started on building and organising content on their sites.
Personality is one thing that is at risk of being lost when learning isn’t happening face-to-face, but as well as ranking this as one of the things they valued most in SyD the students were able to give some clear examples of the sorts of things that help individual personalities to shine through. A site image that gives the page a visual identity and a welcome message with the tutor’s name, profile image and contact details are good ways to start. Students expressed a very positive reaction to tutors using a site as a personal learning space, as compared to a more static/formal document repository. Posting non-core materials perhaps as part of a forum discussion, is a simple way to add personality as well as support feedback and debate. Posting video, images and other multimedia is also well received by students, who perceived it as adding value and a sign of tutor engagement with one student saying that ‘it felt like the lecturer was sharing her resources …’. This need not be difficult or time-consuming – for example if there is a newspaper or journal of particular interest to your students an RSS feed allows you to bring the headlines into your site automatically and the search and subscribe functions on YouTube can help you to quickly find relevant videos.
Blending online and face-to-face learning is central to encouraging students to use Study Direct, but it might surprise some tutors that students ranked this as an important aspect of SyD use. Research, reading, practicing, listening, watching, debating and collaboration are all important aspects of learning that students feel your Study direct site should encourage and support. The majority of students are as likely to engage in these learning activities online as in a library, lecture or in a classroom and by providing online resources and activities you can enable students to manage the time, pace and path of their learning and revision. Some tutors have already realised that if they post their lecture presentation to Study Direct in advance they can access and launch it from within SyD, demonstrating to students not only where they can find the file but establishing SyD as the online hub of the course. Referring to forum discussions and questions during sessions is another good way to make connections between learning that is happening in the room and online. Office hours are a good time to catch up with Study Direct, reading and contributing to forums, responding to questions and sharing resources to support learning.
The SyD site with these tips and step-by-step support to develop these aspects of your site is now available and the SyD help pages offer much more guidance. If you need more specific support the Study Direct Team are happy to offer advice and support by email or at the drop-in sessions every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday between 2pm and 4pm (just visit the IT Help Desk in Shawcross).